740.00116 European War 1939/1280: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Harriman) to the Secretary of State

260. Pravda and Izvestiya for January 26 devote over two and one-half pages to publication of the report of the Special Commission for the Investigation of the Shooting of the Polish Captured Officers in the Katyn Forest.57

Both papers publish front page editorials on this subject. Editorials declare that investigation establishes the truth regarding the German killing of the Polish officers.

They state that Polish prisoners who had been working in a Soviet camp fell into the hands of the Germans during the Red Army retreat. The Germans, carrying out their policy of physical annihilation of the Poles, in the autumn of ’41 shot the Polish prisoners who had been in the captured camp. The Germans, in order to conceal their crime and also to achieve their foul political aims, resorted to a monstrous provocation.

In the spring of ‘43 they published a communiqué attributing the Katyn crime to Soviet organs, dating the murders back to the spring of 1940. The editorials state that the Germans resorted to this trick early in ’43 when their military fortunes were on the wane, and that they sought to incite Russians and Poles against one another. This attempt was a failure. The Soviet Information Bureau exposed the Hitlerite slander. Freedom-loving peoples looked with disdain on the Hitlerite slander against the heroic Soviet people.

However the emigrant Polish Government took an active part in the anti-Soviet campaign regarding the “Murders in Katyn”. The Pravda editorial states that as a result of the participation of the Polish Government in the anti-Soviet campaign, diplomatic relations [Page 1239] between the Soviet Government and the Polish Government were broken off.

Now, as a result of materials in the possession of the Special Commission, including testimony of over a hundred witnesses and medical and other data, the base sequence of German Fascist provocations, murders and falsifications which constitute the “Katyn” affair has been revealed. The evidence establishes, according to the editorials, that the Poles were killed in the fall of ‘41, having been in the camp up to September’41.

The Pravda editorial cites the data in the communiqué of the commission to the effect that a German military organization concealed under the designation of “Staff of the 537th Construction Battalion” and headed by Overlieutenant Arnes, Overlieutenant Rechst and Lieutenant Hott, carried out the mass shootings.58

The Germans by threats and tortures and bribery found false witnesses from whom they obtained lying testimony about the “Katyn affair”. Moreover they brought to the Katyn Forest corpses of prisoners shot in other places, utilizing Russian prisoners, who after completing the work were also shot.

The concluding paragraph of the Pravda editorial compare[s] the Katyn crime with the crimes investigated in Krasnodar and Kharkov,59 and declare[s] that the Katyn murders were executed by direct order from Berlin “in effectuating the policy of physical destruction of the Slavic peoples”. These base crimes will arouse the wrath and indignation of the Soviet and Polish peoples and of all progressive humanity. None of the crimes committed by the Hitlerite bandits will be forgotten and none will remain unavenged. The Red Army’s blows and the unshakable will of all the freedom-loving peoples to achieve final victory and the complete crushing of Hitlerite Germany in the shortest period attest to this.

The Izvestiya editorial, besides making similar statements regarding vengeance against the Nazi criminals, contains a paragraph denouncing the Polish Government. It declares that in the light of the facts the shameful role of the Polish Government stands out more clearly. The Polish Government by participating in the anti-Soviet campaign aided the hangmen of the Polish people. It struck a blow at the Soviet Union whose people are exerting all their efforts to defeat [Page 1240] the common enemy of the Russian and Polish peoples and the peoples of all the freedom-loving democratic countries.

“Acting in unison with Hitler, the most evil foe of the Polish people, the Polish Government did enormous harm to the cause of Poland.”

The newspapers containing the full text of the Special Commission’s communiqué are being sent to the Department through the usual channels.60

  1. The Moscow press on January 17, 1944, announced the formation of this Special Commission by decision of the Extraordinary State Commission for the Establishment and Investigation of the Crimes Committed by the German Fascist Invaders and Their Accomplices, which had itself been created by an ukaz of November 4,1942. See Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. iii, p. 473.

    On September 18, 1951, a “Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre” was unanimously authorized under House Resolution 390, 82d Congress, 1st session. Extensive hearings were held by the Committee between October 11, 1951, and November 14, 1952. The testimonies received, together with voluminous accompanying documents, were published under the full title of Hearings before the Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1952, 7 parts, 2362 pages). The text of the report of January 24, 1944, by the Soviet Special Commission is printed in pt. 3, pp. 228–247 (Russian text reproduced, pp. 248–309).

  2. This organization was actually the Army Group Signal Regiment No. 537, of which Lt. Col. Friedrich Ahrens was the commanding officer only from early November 1941 until August 1943. First Lieutenant Rekst was regimental adjutant, and Second Lieutenant Hodt was with this regiment.
  3. For reports concerning the trial and sentencing of German war criminals and their Russian accomplices in Krasnodar and Kharkov, see Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. iii, pp. 845 ff.
  4. Not printed, but see footnote 57, p. 1238.